During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with the actions on May 6, 1968, by Spec. 4 Robert M. Patterson, when his 17th Cavalry unit was attacked by a force of North Vietnamese Army regulars near La Chu, South Vietnam.
Robert M. Patterson’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Sgt. Patterson (then Sp4c.) distinguished himself while serving as a fire team leader of the 3d Platoon, Troop B, during an assault against a North Vietnamese Army battalion which was entrenched in a heavily fortified position.
“When the leading squad of the 3d Platoon was pinned down by heavy interlocking automatic weapon and rocket-propelled grenade fire from two enemy bunkers, Sgt. Patterson and the two other members of his assault team moved forward under a hail of enemy fire to destroy the bunkers with grenade and machinegun fire.
“Observing that his comrades were being fired on from a third enemy bunker covered by enemy gunners in one-man spider holes, Sgt. Patterson, with complete disregard for his safety and ignoring the warning of his comrades that he was moving into a bunker complex, assaulted and destroyed the position. Although exposed to intensive small-arm and grenade fire from the bunkers and their mutually supporting emplacements, Sgt. Patterson continued his assault upon the bunkers, which were impeding the advance of his unit.
“Sgt. Patterson singlehandedly destroyed by rifle and grenade fire five enemy bunkers, killed eight enemy soldiers and captured seven weapons. His dauntless courage and heroism inspired his platoon to resume the attack and to penetrate the enemy defensive position.
“Sgt. Patterson’s action at the risk of his life has reflected great credit upon himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”
In Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty, Peter Collier continues the story:
“Robert Patterson remained in the Hue area for the rest of his time in Vietnam, taking part in the fighting, some of the heaviest of the war, that broke out in the “second Tet Offensive” later that summer. He rotated back home to Fort Bragg in December 1968. In September of the following year, his sergeant took him aside one day and told him that he was going to Washington, D.C., to receive the Medal of Honor. “You’re pulling my leg,” was Patterson’s response.
“President Richard Nixon presented the medal to Patterson on Oct. 9, 1969. Almost as memorable as the ceremony itself was the advice he received from World War II Medal of Honor recipient Rufus Geddie Herring not long afterward: “Young man, let me tel you something right now. It will be much harder to wear that ribbon then it was to earn it.” More than 25 years later, Patterson said, “Geddie was right. Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t think of the responsibilities of this medal.”
In an interview for Texas Monthly many years later, Patterson said, “There are five hours in my life that I have no memory of, and during those five hours I earned the Medal of Honor. I remember starting a sweep of a Vietnamese village on the morning of May 6, 1968. About halfway through the village we stopped for lunch. As we started to move again, we got hit, and the next thing I knew it was five o’clock that evening and I was in a 500-pound bomb crater. … When I was told that I had been nominated for the Medal of Honor, I thought it was a practical joke. I didn’t know of anything I had done to deserve it. If somebody else had been in the same situation, they would have done the same thing. It just happened to be my turn.”
Patterson remained in the Army, rising to the highest enlisted rank, command sergeant major, before retiring. He spent more than a decade as a drill sergeant at Fort Bliss, Texas. After the Army, Patterson worked for the Department of Veteran Affairs for a dozen years.
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